GPRS – Something to do with my phone, right?

By: Rob O’Connor
You might be forgiven for thinking that the letters GPRS are just another acronym the mobile operators use to confuse you. But really they’re not…honestly.
GPRS, or General Packet Radio Service, is a relatively new way of sending and receiving information to and from a mobile phone. It operates similarly to the Wireless Application Protocol (WAP) in the fact that web pages may be viewed on your telephone screen, but they differ in the way they use a dial-up connection. With WAP a user dials-up their service provider, does whatever they want to do and then disconnects. The user is then charged for the duration of the phone call. A GPRS-enabled phone however, offers users an “always-on”, high-capacity, high-speed connection to Internet-based information and services. Charging is based on the amount of data the user sends/receives. So imagine this scenario:
Fintan is an engineer working on-site somewhere and is waiting for an important email to arrive from his boss. With his standard WAP phone, he must dial up every time to check his email for new messages. Each time he does this, he incurs a charge. However with his GPRS phone, he just sits there and when his boss sends the email, he is notified instantly. He is only charged for reading this one email. Using GPRS it is far quicker, easier and (most importantly) cheaper to use the Internet from a mobile device.
So how does it work? GPRS is built on the idea of a packet-switched network. Packet-switched networks have often been described as comparable to moving a building from one location to another. So let’s say we want to move a house from Dublin to Waterford. It would be impractical (and practically impossible) to transport the building in one go. The solution is to disassemble the house, label the various bricks, components, etc, load them onto trucks and begin transportation. The bricks may not arrive in Waterford in the same order that they were sent, since the drivers may take different routes to deliver their
loads, some may drive faster than others or for various other reasons. However, this doesn’t really matter since we know the order that the bricks are to be put together based on the labelling structure we devised in the beginning. And soon after all the bricks have arrived, we can reassemble the house perfectly in Waterford (in theory at least).
Now apply this system to moving data around a network. A Server receives a request from a Client for a block of information. The Server breaks up the information into packets and begins transmitting the data across the network. The Client starts receiving these packets and put them back together so as to produce the requested information. If a packet gets lost along the way, the Client can ask for it to be re-transmitted, thus ensuring the Client receives all the data it needs. The best example of an implementation of this type of network is the Internet. So you could have been using a packet-switched network all this time without realising it! GPRS uses this type of system to transfer data between mobile phones and other networks.
GSM (Global System for Mobile) is the 2G of mobile phone networks and 3G networks are a little bit away yet. GPRS sits somewhere between the two of these and so has been dubbed 2.5G. So now you know a bit about GPRS, how can you use it? Both Vodafone and O2 offer GPRS services to customers with GPRS-enabled phones, such as the Nokia 6210, 6310, 8310, or the Motorola V66, V80.
So should you use GPRS? Well if you use WAP regularly, you could probably reduce your costs by switching to GPRS. If you foresee the need for a mobile data connection in your near future, GPRS might be for you.

The Future of Telehealth

By: Keith Hearne
“Imagine a world where no matter who you are or where you are, you can get the health care you need when you need it.”
- Quote from opening page of the Office of Advancement of Telehealth website An appealing idea; the notion that if you are in a remote place and are in need of medical assistance or need access to medical knowledge that you can get it when you need it, no matter where you are. Fortunately telehealth is already more then a notion. Indeed in some places it is alive and well and in use.
So what is telehealth? Telehealth is the use of electronic information and telecommunications technologies to support long-distance clinical health care, patient and professional health-related education, public health and health administration. And with the latest movement in mobile communications to the third generation (3G) technology; where Internet and mobile technology are converging, it’s possible that telehealth just may be able to offer that little bit more.
First generation (1G) mobile communications systems started in the early to mid 1980s, offering simple wireless voice services based on analog technology. These systems provided low quality voice services, were very limited in capacity and did not extend across geographic areas. Our current mobile phone services work on digital second generation (2G) systems, which were developed in Europe (mainly Global System for Mobile Communication (GSM)) and the U.S. to provide better voice quality, higher capacity, global roaming capability as well as lower power consumption. 2G systems also offer support for services like short messaging (SMS).
However, the low transmission (bit) rate of 2G systems (9.6kbps for GSM) cannot meet demands for new and faster non-voice services on the move. 3G systems aim to solve the problems encountered with 2G, by promising global roaming across 3G standards, as well as support for multimedia applications by using Universal Mobile Telecommunications System (UMTS) technology. UMTS technology will also offer increased bandwidth and better Quality of Service (QoS). With the UMTS technology, telehealth will take on a whole new life and offer much more efficient medical services.
Telecommunications and Internet services currently facilitate telehealth by allowing the transfer of patient and other related medical data between health care professionals. However consultation and treatment are the major areas of health care at the moment. In the coming years we will see our current mobile communications systems extended with UMTS technologies, and as a result we should see consultation and treatment being provided virtually in any location where access to a mobile communications system is available. This kind of technology should offer dramatic improvements to areas like emergency and home treatment, as well as routine check-ups. This will lead to considerable cost savings to different stakeholders in the healthcare system. For hospitals it will mean reduced cost and bed stay; GPs will have greater reach of consultancy services; and most importantly for the patients, telehealth will mean independence and fewer doctors’ visits.
Let’s take a couple of scenarios where UMTS technology and teleheath will be able to offer us improved medical assistance.
Patient Monitoring: We are already seeing new integrated technologies being introduced to the mobile market place, with the latest mobile phones offering a still camera, allowing you to take still pictures and send these to friends. With improved integration we will see mobile devices that offer live feed video streaming via inbuilt cameras. With this in mind patient monitoring could be easily implemented by a GP. With monitoring equipment being set up at the patient’s home or on the move, the GP can keep an eye on the patient’s progress without having to be there.
Emergency Care: Imagine a person was in a car accident and he or she was physically uninjured but a fellow passenger had some trauma and injury. Miles from the nearest hospital or doctor, the person, however, has a mobile device with phone and live feed capabilities. She can ring the doctor who can provide invaluable on the spot advice for the person to administer, possibly saving the victim’s life. This can be extended to doctors advising nursing staff or ambulance staff while en route to hospital.
Consultations and Call Out: It’s 3:00am and you’re woken by your 3 year old daughter who is crying, feverish, coughing heavily and complaining of an upset stomach and you don’t know what to do. It’s a fairly common situation where you have to call a doctor out to your house late at night or early in the morning. But what if the advice needed could be administered over your video/phone? The doctor can see the patient through a live stream and determine whether the situation warrants a house call and if not can give detailed information of treatment over the phone. Once the consultation is at an end you can even pay for the treatment using your mobile UMTS device.
All the technologies needed for mobile health care or telemedicine are already in place. With the expansion of UMTS and 3G technologies in the coming years, we will see these types of services extended and greatly improved. UMTS technology will also see the ability to pay for access to services through your mobile. This ability to handle payments will be a catalyst to bring healthcare services to the mobile world.
These are just a few of the possibilities of telehealth that we may see come into operation with the introduction of UMTS technology. One thing is clear though that the advancement of telehealth will more than likely come into all of our lives in the coming years, making our medical systems more efficient and more patient friendly and will provide a vehicle to improve healthcare service delivery.
See also:


George Boole – An unsung hero

By: Rob O’Connor

Unless someone has been living on Mars for the past 15 years, they would know that Ireland has shown phenomenal economic growth in the recent past. This has been due to, among other things, government subsidies in higher education, increased foreign investment and the cultivation of domestic business. At the forefront of Ireland’s economic revolution was its strong position in the Information Technology market, so much so that we were known as “the silicon valley of Europe.” However, not many people are aware that Ireland’s presence on the technology map is not a new development; in fact every computer circuit in the world is based on mathematical theories developed by a mathematics professor in Cork in the mid-19th century.

George Boole was born in the English industrial town of Lincoln in 1815. His parents were members of the lower working class and in an age so driven by class-structure and social standings, it is quite remarkable that Boole eventually achieved what he did. As a young boy he showed an unusual intelligence and curiosity, which was nurtured by his father who passed on his knowledge and love of mathematics to his son. As he grew older, his father arranged for a friend to teach the boy Latin and by the time he reached adolescence, Boole was fluent in German, Italian and French. When he turned 16 he began working as an assistant teacher and at the age of 20 (after deciding not to enter Church service) he opened his own school.

As well as running his school, Boole continued his private study of mathematics. He became friendly with Duncan Gregory, the editor of the recently founded Cambridge Mathematical Journal who encouraged Boole to undertake a formal degree. However Boole needed the income he earned from his school to support his parents, so a penniless student life was not viable. He carried on his research and at ripe old age of 24 published his first scientific paper – Researches on the Theory of Analytical Transformations – in his friend’s periodical. Over the next ten years he produced a steady stream of papers that gained the attention of intellectual groups and in 1844 he was awarded the Royal Society Medal for his contributions to mathematical analysis. In 1849, he was offered a position on the faculty of Queen’s College Ireland (later to become University College Cork) where he remained for the rest of his life.
As a member of a respected academic institution, Boole found it easier to delve into research and concentrated on refining his methods. He set himself the task of developing a mathematical description for natural-language logical arguments, which could then be manipulated and solved. He came up with a type of linguistic algebra, the three most basic operations of which were (and still are) AND, OR and NOT. With these three functions, he discovered it was possible to perform comparisons or simple mathematical operations. His findings were published in his 1854 work An Investigation of the Laws of Thought, on Which Are Founded the Mathematical Theories of Logic and Probabilities where he gave a detailed description of his binary approach of only processing two objects at any one time, always yielding a Yes/No, On/Off or 1/0 result. As most people know, computers are binary machines and since everything is reduced down to 1s and 0s, all mathematical operations are based on Boole’s work.
Boole’s laws are incredibly simple – but that’s what’s so good about them! They may seem obvious now, but 150 years ago this type of thinking was unheard of. Boole’s work is well-documented elsewhere and any interested individuals can find very good explanations on the Internet (e.g or in mathematical logic textbooks.
Sadly Boole’s career came to an untimely end, when he died at the early age of 49. According to reports, he walked a distance of two miles in the pouring rain from his home to Queen’s College and delivered his final lecture, soaking wet. He developed a feverish cold and soon his lungs became infected. His wife Mary (who was the niece of the explorer Sir George Everest) believed that the remedy for her husband’s illness should resemble the cause. She put him to bed and threw buckets of water over him. He died a few days later.

Mind your own business – or someone else will

By: Jonathan Brazil
Computers are everywhere. It’s a modern fact that cannot be argued with. Convenience stores, supermarkets and even pubs all have computer-controlled cash registers. They have been introduced to make our everyday lives more efficient. Or have they?
Most regular shoppers are loyal to a particular store where they do their weekly shopping and other bits and pieces. As a result they will at some stage have been offered a loyalty scheme option such as a clubcard. Every time they make a purchase they present the card and get rewarded in some way for the purchase that they have made.
However, it doesn’t stop there. All the details about your purchases have now been stored in your profile somewhere on the store’s server. Remember when you signed up for the card, you gave your details to the store? Well, you did and now that you have started to use the card a database is storing your purchases and building up a character profile of your shopping habits.
Every once in a while you will receive a personalised booklet of vouchers offering you discounts on various items. Isn’t it strange how these random discounts often have a lot in common with your regular purchases combined with some impulse items? I sometimes purchase items online such as DVDs, books, CDs, etc. One of the requirements now is that you specify an e-mail address so that you can be notified that your order has been received and also to update you on the status of the order. Now every time there is a new release, special offer or other such event it will be emailed to
me. Also every time you log into your account on that site you will be given a list of titles that might be of interest to you based on past purchases. Every time you buy something you are being tracked and you are saving these companies thousands in marketing surveys. Of course you are being rewarded for this in the way of discounts and such.
If you’re not happy with the fact that so many companies might be building up a highly detailed profile of your shopping habits or general interests you can comfort yourself with the thought that somewhere in the small print there is probably a legal notice stating that your information will not be shared with any other outside company. But what happens if the company’s policy changes on this matter some time down the road? Suddenly a selection of companies know what you have been buying for the last number of years and how often you have been buying it and even how much you are prepared to pay for it if you shop in multiple stores.
We as consumers have signed away a part of our privacy in exchange for small discounts on our purchases. The question we have to ask ourselves is: Are we fuelling a market, which is already one of the highest priced in Europe, with information that reflects our inclination to pay more for certain items? Personally I’d rather keep what I eat for breakfast a secret.

Mobile Communications Advancement

By: Keith Hearne
Today mobile communication is virtually everywhere. If you do not possess a mobile phone chances are out of the next 10 people you meet today, 9 out of 10 will. The mobile communications market is undergoing a great deal of change presently, and this is set to continue. Over the next few years people will continue to see new and improved services, devices as well as improved deliverance being introduced. So where have we come from, and where have we come to?
A great deal of the advancement and creation of the mobile or wireless sector of the global market has to be attributed to the big conglomerate companies like Motorola. From the time man first landed on the moon right up to the current movements into the next generation(2.5G and 3G) of mobile services and devices, Motorola has been there every step of the way. When Neil Armstrong’s first words were relayed from the moon to the earth, they were done so through a Motorola radio transponder that provides two-way voice and television signal transmission. Then right through the 1980′s Motorola worked hard at providing cellular technology and in the late 80′s introduced personal cellular telephones into the market place. In fact the 1980s was the decade of the boom for wireless communication. During this decade pagers grew in popularity, the first cellular car-phone appeared followed closely by the first portable mobile phone in the world, and then great improvements were made in both the weight and size of these devices in the years that followed.
One of the most ambitious and significant advancements in the mobile communications arena at the time was the Iridium System (, a concept for global personal communications. Iridium involved 77 Low Earth Orbit(LEO) satellites operated by Boeing, and twelve ground station gateways that link the Iridium satellite constellation to terrestrial wireless and landline public telephone networks, providing one hundred percent global coverage. Research and development work on the Iridium system started in 1987, pioneered by Motorola engineers Ray Leopold, Ken Peterson, and Bary Bertiger. Iridium service started on November 1, 1998 by Iridium LLC (founded in 1991 and having invested about $7 billion), but later went into liquidation. With a $3,000 price for an Iridium phone, plus international calling rates of up to $7 a minute, the company brought in only 15,000 customers before going bust, and was later taken over by Iridium Satellite LLC who acquired Iridium through the bankruptcy courts and resumed service on March 28, 2001. Iridium Satellite LLC currently provide services to the United States Department of Defense.
In the last five years, we have all seen the progression of mobile phones as they practically took over the planet. A few years ago a mobile phone was a commodity, now it’s almost, and indeed to some people is a necessity. New gadgets are being introduced into the market on a daily basis; the market is swamped with wireless and
mobile devices like the new GPRS (General Packet Radio Service) phones, which allow customers to experience fast and “always-on” access to the internet while only being charged for what they actually download and not the time spent browsing. Also we have devices like O2′s new XDA, combining a mobile phone with a pocket PC.
The apparent sacrifice that we seem to have made for this technology is the presence of base stations and ugly masts on the horizons, allowing signal coverage to the more remote places in our countries. So what next? Will the new wave of new fangled devices that offer us the world mean we will be overrun with bigger and uglier masts in order to provide us with such services? It may not be all that bad. While there have been advances in technologies provided, there is also a lot of research, development and resources going into how these technologies are deployed. We may see a decline in the use of the masts as the years go by.
On the week of July 24th this year, a US company ‘Sky Tower’, said it had successfully performed a series of tests in Hawaii of its new technology, a communications airplane called Pathfinder-Plus. This airplane is unmanned, solar-powered and with advancements in battery technology could stay airborne for six-months at a time while operating above the weather and air traffic at 65,000 feet. It is envisaged that by 2005 people might be receiving mobile phone services, broadband connections and even digital TV from these or similar solar-powered airplanes. The advantages of which would mean, more coverage and more efficient delivery due to their high vantage and consumption of less than 1/10,000 the power used by a typical terrestrial broadcast transmitter that has to overcome buildings, trees and other obstructions to cover the same area. The aesthetics of such a delivery would be a great improvement on today’s terrestrial tower build-outs and backhaul also.
So the truth of it is that we have come a long way in the last few decades in terms of mobile communications advancement. However with the big hitters like NTT DoCoMo, NEC, Toshiba and many more pumping colossal amounts of time, money, resources and expenditure into such projects as the Pathfinder-Plus, its clear that we’ve only seeing the tip of the iceberg so far.

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